Fox News Doesn't Understand Religious Freedom

NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 05:  Signage at FOX Studios on November 5, 2014 in New York City.  (Photo by Rob Kim/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 05: Signage at FOX Studios on November 5, 2014 in New York City. (Photo by Rob Kim/Getty Images)

Given the amount of time Fox News spends peddling claims of Christian persecution, you might expect them to have a better understanding of the subject. Since the Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage, the conservative fear machine has been cranked up to DEFCON 5. Trending in the opinion section on FoxNews.com are ill-informed articles titled "Tolerance vs. Pride? Spat on by parade-goers, Catholic priest has this message," "City threatens to arrest ministers who refuse to preform same-sex weddings," "You've been warned, America, gay marriage is just the beginning," and "Ten Commandments: Madness strikes in Oklahoma."

Topping the list, however, is "Fox News anchor: I didn't know it was criminal to be a Christian," which is an excerpt from Gretchen Carlson's new book where she discusses the manufactured "war on Christmas." The incident that sparked her outrage was a group's request that the state erect a Festivus pole -- a fictitious religious symbol from the Seinfeld sitcom -- in the same public area as a Nativity scene. Carlson says, "I thought it was an outrage that my kids would have to grow up in a culture that forced them to grope their way past a Festivus pole to see a Nativity scene -- on Christmas!"

Outside the fact that this anecdote in no way shows that Christianity has been even remotely criminalized, it should be noted that no one is forcing the Carlson family to drive by government property to view a Nativity scene. If they would like to see Jesus in the manger, there is no shortage of churches and private establishments that offer such displays free of anything Christians might find offensive. Having said that, if forcing people to "grope their way past" made-up holiday exhibits is a problem, then Carlson needs to recognize that there are certainly American citizens who believe that the Nativity scene represents a fairy tale. Like Carlson, these people are genuinely outraged that such religious representations are allowed on publicly owned property. The reality is that the courts have long decided that either all made-up symbols are welcome in the public square or none are.

The problem seems to be that some Christians can't understand how anyone would be offended by Christianity. Perhaps the best illustration of this point came when Bill O'Reilly referred to an atheist group that put up billboards attempting to convince people that there is no god as a "bullying group." If converting people to your way of thinking is bullying, then it should be pointed out that there are far more Christian groups across the globe attempting to convince others to take Jesus Christ as their lord and savior than there are atheist groups hounding people to accept the possibility that God doesn't exist.

Unfortunately, people like O'Reilly can't put themselves in the shoes of non-Christians to see how their proselytization could be considered bullying. In their mind these people are preaching good will toward men, so how could anyone be offended? While the Christians of today certainly aren't as forceful as their Crusades-era predecessors, there is little doubt that some believers push the boundaries. Would Christians feel that they were being bullied if atheists showed up at their door to talk about the fallacy of God? Would they find an atheist on a loudspeaker outside their local sports arena offensive? If schools forced children to recite verses that say that God isn't real, wouldn't Christians demand that this sort of speech be removed from the public sphere?

But when you insist that your local court building be adorned with the Ten Commandments because it represents Judeo-Christian values while disallowing other religious-based texts, you become the bully. When you want only the religion you accept as "real" to be represented in the public square, you exhibit the very intolerance you claim others are showing towards your faith. When you say, as Gretchen Carlson did, that "I'm all for free speech and free rights, just not on December 25th," you lose the right to be taken seriously.

The reality is that, despite the outrage, the courts have clearly defined religious freedom in a way that protects all Americans. So when Cal Thomas of Fox News says that "gay activists are likely to go after the tax-exempt status of Christian colleges that prohibit cohabitation of unmarried students, or openly homosexual ones, as well as churches that refuse to marry them," he is exposing his ignorance. The Supreme Court has ruled that churches are free to refuse to perform a wedding for any reason that they see fit. Any lawsuits attempting to remove this protection will only further enshrine it.

The tax-exempt status of Christian colleges, however, is likely to be challenged. The basis for the challenge will come from Bob Jones University vs. the United States, in which the Supreme Court decided that, regardless of their First Amendment rights, religious universities could not retain their exemption and discriminate against interracial couples. The court also made clear that this decision did not apply to churches or other purely religious institutions.

Despite what Thomas would prefer, the court is not bound by Christian doctrine. The court is bound by the Constitution, and nowhere in the Constitution is there an unmitigated right to tax-exempt status for every endeavor associated with the church. Of course, it seems likely that Thomas appreciates that these same laws protect Christians from being discriminated against by secular schools, wedding chapels and cake bakers.

What these Christian activists don't seem to understand is that when people oppose Christian pervasion, they aren't declaring war on Christianity; they are simply fighting for equal treatment. Christian religious freedom is bordered on all sides by the religious freedom of everyone else. By crossing those borders, you infringe on the rights of others. This means one person's religious freedom is another person's discrimination. If only we lived in a world where faith was used to lift up all Americans instead of being used to ostracize thy neighbor.